PEMBROKE — A photographic exhibit that recalls a painful history of civil rights in Robeson County is on display at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke Entrepreneurship Incubator.
Titled “Traditions of Resistance: Civil Rights Protests in North Carolina’s Lumbee Community,” is a collection of nine photos shot in the 1980s by photographer Rob Amberg and is being displayed in partnership with the North Carolina Folklore Society, Amberg, and the Lumbee Tribe. The free exhibit will be on display until June 30.
“This is an attempt to gather as much of our community history in big community pictures as is possible,” said Kim Pevia, who is working with the Native March Forth Project, which has enlisted young people interested in learning more about the civil rights struggle in Robeson County. “We want to have a physical place for them now and an online place for them going forward. It’s the genesis of a community scrapbook around traditions of resistance.”
The incubator is located at 202 Main St. in Pembroke.
According to a statement by NC Folk, the pictures were shot by Amberg during a “tumultuous period in Robeson County, and chronicles civil disobedience fueled by the troublesome deaths of community members and by the assassination of Julian T. Pierce, a candidate for Robeson County Superior Court judge.”
The murder of Pierce on March 26, 1988, furthered protests in the Lumbee community and the African-American community. He was elected posthumously and would have been the first Lumbee ever elected as Superior Court judged.
Many in the Lumbee community have never accepted the findings of an investigation that determined that Pierce’s murder was not political, but that he was killed in a domestic dispute.
Pevia said the intent of the display is to use the photos to inspire a new generation of leaders through starting a conversation about the issue. They also hope to identify people in the photos since many of them are unknown. The project is also starting a community scrapbook.
Pevia described the backdrop of the resistance.
“There was a time during the time of Julian Pierce murder when bodies would just go missing and we didn’t know what was happening to people,” Pevia said. “There was a real community attempt to find answers. There were many marches and protests.”
Amberg, a native of Washington, D.C., moved to Madison County, North Carolina, in 1973. When he arrived in Lumberton in the mid-1980s, he was working for Rural Advancement Fund, a nonprofit farm advocacy group that had a field office in Lumberton called The Justice Project.
“The Justice Project’s goal was to basically address some of the unsolved murders and the systematic racism that was going on in that community — it had been going on for a very long time,” Amberg said.
Part of his job was to write about and photograph projects the Rural Advancement Fund was working on. Looking at the photos now, he said they remain relevant.
“For young people in Robeson County, that is not only part of their history, it is part of their personal past,” he said. “That is who they specifically are. That is their relatives, their family members and their community. Yet in the more general sense, they are a part of the history of Native Americans in this country.”
Amberg is the recipient of awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Center for Documentary Studies, and others.
During the annual Pembroke Street Festival on Friday, the Native March Forth Project will hold a community documentation day at the incubator from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. so people can view the photo exhibit and help identify the people in the photos. People are also encouraged to bring their group, church, community or family photos to be scanned and uploaded to the online community scrapbook that is being created for the community.
For information, call Pevia at 910-774-6328 or email her at: [email protected]
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.